Apparently, Everyone’s A Racist

Apparently, Everyone’s A Racist

Most people only embark on an interracial friendship when they can’t find anyone in their own race with the same interests as them. This is the contentious and somewhat dubious finding of a joint US/Chinese study which argues that racial groups prefer to stick to their own kind; especially when living in larger communities.

Interracial picture from Shutterstock

Researchers from the Universities of Peking and Michigan developed a theoretical model to investigate how social context size effects the formation of friendships. According to the report, friendship formation is strongly influenced by social context, with interracial relationships declining as populations get larger.

To test their theory, the researchers analysed friendship choice data from 4,745 American high school students spread across 172 US schools. They discovered that increases in total school size decreased the proportion of interracial friendships.

This is partly attributed to larger social contexts reducing the likelihood of people meeting, but personal preference also plays a part. According to the study, individuals within a large population are more likely to find same-race people with compatible personalities, which negates the need for interracial friends.

The report goes on to conclude that global online activity could lead to higher social isolation and segmentation as social context size continues to expand:

Under the assumption of individuals’ preferences for friends with similar attributes, an increase in [population] size leads to a lower share of interracial friendships…One potential negative social consequence of the internet as a social interaction medium in the ever more globalized world is to encourage social isolation and social segmentation by expanding size immensely.

Hmm. I don’t claim to be a sociologist, but I can see a few problems with this study. For starters, the researchers make the very big assumption that individuals prefer to make friends with other people of the same race.

While cultural and racial segmentation certainly takes place in large populations, surely this has more to do with language barriers and social economic differences than a reluctance to make friends with different race members? For most people, this is completely irrelevant. You could be Chinese, African, European or Aboriginal — as long as you’re a fan of comics, video games and Monkey Magic, let’s hang out!

The notion that interracial relationships increase as a population shrinks also doesn’t quite ring true. All over the world, small towns are famed for their bigotry and racism towards minority groups within their community. Meanwhile, larger cities like Sydney and Melbourne usually have a cosmopolitan vibe where cultures and races mix freely.

That said, none of the above applies to whinging poms in Australia. Go back to Blighty, y’hear? And Kiwis, eh? Who needs ’em? And don’t get us started on the-[snip — Ed.]

How many ‘interracial’ friends do you have? Is it something you even notice? Let us know in the comments section below.

Structural effect of size on interracial friendship Supporting Information [PNAS]


  • Hmmm, there may be some truth to this.

    In my closest group of friends, 4 out of twelve don’t fit the “White Male” stereotype.

    I don’t actively think about these things, but this study is rather interesting, especially as I’ve noticed varied cultural paradigms surrounding the concept of friendship.

  • I’m white and Australian-born. In Year 11 & 12 in country Victoria I had two close Asian friends, and about 5 – 6 white friends. When I moved to Melbourne to go to uni I made another close Asian friend… but most of the overseas students stuck to their own kind.

    We are friendly with our Indian neighbours across the street. Their daughter (Year 9) has a wide variety of friends. A few years back we went to her birthday party at a play centre. All the other white parents just dumped their kid and took off!

    So, I think a lot of people just think people who look different to them are completely different and they won’t be able to relate to them.

  • I would list the few friends I do have of different background, but it took me a while of analysing my friends to figure out who is actually different without looking at skin colour.

    I have friends of Chinese heritage, Vietnamese, Israeli, British, Scottish, Korean, Portugese… the list goes on, but I just see them as friends, I chose to be friendly to them after initial social niceties stage when I realised they were nice people.

    Nothing in my head tells me to look for a white guy with the same interests, just to look for a person with similar interests.

  • As an Anglo-Australian male I think Asians are extremely sexy. I guess, I fall outside the stupid, bogan, white, heterosexual, racist, majority of this country though.

  • It is not racist to recognize there are differences in culture and genetics, and usually you get along best with people who share a common or similar culture. And you’re still allowed to like curry, shnitzel, kimchi, fishnchips, sushi, souvlaki, laksa or whatever.

    It’s only racist when you start judging people you’ve never met (usually due to isolation or a bad experience), give special treatment to some groups or let it turn into hatred. That does not mean some cultures/subcultures haven’t earnt a reputation by cultivating a lot of assholes.

    I don’t like assholes no matter where they come from, and if there’s a lot coming from a certain community, that community needs to take a look at curbing that behavior. It’s not about race, it’s about how you behave. We can all coexist as long as we’re not assholes.

    Political correctness and ultra sensitivity needs to die.
    To pretend there are no differences is to be blind, just come to terms with it, cause you’re all inferior to cats 😛

  • I’m an Australian-born with Asian heritage, but have primarily been raised in a very western, “Australian” environment. I’ve never really thought about it before but in my core group of friends I’m the only non-white person, and I have a white Anglo girlfriend. I don’t think it’s a matter of preferring to hang out with white people per se, but moreso people with similar Western cultural views and interests. Same goes for people of non-Western cultures. Just look around high schools and unis all around the country and you’ll see the quite clearly delineated white social groups, Asian social groups, Indian social groups, etc. Nothing particularly wrong with that, it’s just the way it is.

  • I’m white, married a Chinese, live in Sydney, and see far more interracial couples than in my parents country town… Sure, sample size of one, but I don’t think the study showed accurate results.

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